Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the use of discretionary funds for the promotion of quality and innovation in higher education.
The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) has a keen interest in these proposals as it attempts to fulfil a role as coordinator of library and information projects at the national level. Membership of CAUL comprises the chief librarians of universities which are members of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee.
CAUL recognises the logistic and financial implications of administering the discretionary funds and is aware that there has been some duplication of effort. Nevertheless, it is aware of the benefits which have been derived from the various schemes and supports the retention of centrally administered funding to permit the undertaking of projects which have system-wide benefit.
CAUL does not support the view expressed in some quarters that the funding be included in the recurrent allocations to institutions. While this solution would improve institutional flexibility to undertake programs, it would have a deleterious effect on initiatives which are best undertaken at a national level. While it may be theoretically possible to fund such projects by institutional contributions, in practice it is difficult to respond quickly if funding is dependent on the allocation mechanisms of 37 institutions.
Library and Information Services.
In 1993, the Higher Education Council recognised the need to identify and address priorities associated with library and information services. Funding was allocated for three broad programs - database access, information infrastructure and electronic publishing - over the period 1994 to 1996. Implementation of these programs is now part completed and significant system-wide benefit has been achieved.
Database Access Program.
The database access program has permitted all universities to test various networked information products and to determine their suitability to institutional needs and priorities. The central funding of the trials has made it possible to negotiate advantageous contracts with database suppliers, and institutions have been able to assess the products within a coordinated framework. This approach has been of particular advantage to those institutions which do not have significant discretionary funds available for evaluative projects. The trial periods have provided time during which arrangements can be made for the recurrent funding of the products.
Overall, the program has resulted in universities being able to test a core of networked information products and to acquire them at a reduced rate through consortium purchase. The program provided the stimulus for a number of institutions to begin the introduction of alternate access to information without the distraction of having to cancel existing print publications in the short term.
Similar benefits will derive from the information infrastructure and electronic publishing programs. By their nature, the lead time for significant tangible results is longer for these programs than for the database access program.
Information Infrastructure Program.
A significant outcome of the information infrastructure program will be the development of software for the more efficient transmission of documents over the Internet. This project includes partners in North America and Europe.
Electronic Publishing Program.
The electronic publishing program has stimulated the involvement of Australian academics in the use of a new publishing medium. A longer term result will be increased and wider dissemination of Australian research results and a heightened international profile.
CAUL believes that its involvement with the AV-CC in these programs has been of benefit in improving the quality of information resources available to the scholarly community.
It recognises, however, that the 1994-1996 programs are preliminary and that continued improvement depends on institutional commitment and cooperation. Access to central discretionary funding is essential, for at least the next five years, to facilitate and direct this cooperation. The validity of this approach is reinforced by the decisions taken by the British and European parliaments to make available large amounts of funding for innovation in library and information service provision.
CAUL supports any funding model which will permit a flexible approach to innovation. In terms of library and information services, CAUL is of the opinion that the reduced discretionary funding should be reserved for projects which have demonstrable sector-wide benefit and support.
CAUL commends to the Higher Education Council the methodology used to determine the programs and projects supported by the National Priority (Reserve) Fund for 1994-1996. The priorities were identified and agreed upon by the university librarians and were endorsed by the AV-CC. Administration of the projects has been undertaken by the AV-CC Standing Committee on Information Resources. There has been regular discussion with DEET officers throughout.
The benefits of this methodology are that projects have broad support from the sector and have been critiqued prior to the submission of the funding request. This enables similar projects to be combined for maximum effectiveness. This enhances cooperation between institutions. As there is sector-wide involvement, commitment to the projects tends to be high and there is a natural momentum for the communication of outcomes. The allocation of funding over more than twelve months enables a strategic approach and permits a planned, staged implementation of activities.
CAUL believes that this methodology is particularly suitable for library and information projects.
CAUL recommends that allocations of funding by the Quality and Innovations Panel or the Teaching Enhancement Panel for library and information services be on the basis of demonstrable system-wide support and benefit.
CAUL also recommends provision for funding of projects over multiple years.
13 September 1995
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